Ebola outbreak compared to wartime by Doctors Without Borders

The Ebola epidemic is like a front line that is constantly advancing, the head of Doctors Without Borders said Friday.

Ebola centres fill faster than they can be opened, WHO says

Ebola crisis

8 years ago
Duration 2:17
Heads of several international aid agencies say more help is needed to fight not only the disease, but also the panic surrounding it

The Ebola epidemic is like a front line that is constantly advancing, the head of Doctors Without Borders said Friday.

Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, spoke to reporters in Geneva after spending 10 days on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three countries most affected by the outbreak.

"I really had the feeling that it is a wartime, in terms of fear," Liu said. The epidemic is moving and advancing without clues, she added.

The death toll has risen to 1,145, the World Health Organization said on Friday, with 76 new deaths reported in the two days before Aug. 13.

On Thursday, WHO said that official counts may still "vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."

Liu called the lack of infrastructure in the West African countries struggling to contain the epidemic an "emergency within the emergency" because people don't have access to basic health care, which creates distrust.

"My biggest concern is that we are exposing the medical staff over and over again," she said.

The flood of patients into every newly opened treatment centre is evidence that the official counts aren't keeping up, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the UN health agency, said from Geneva on Friday.

My biggest concern is that we are exposing the medical staff over and over again.- Joanne Liu, Doctors Without Borders

Hartl said that an 80-bed treatment centre opened in Liberia's capital in recent days filled up immediately. The next day, dozens more people showed up to be treated.

"Over the next six months we should get the upper hand on the epidemic, this is my gut feeling," Liu said.

Tarnue Karbbar, who works for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams can't keep up with all of the cases and deaths to document them. At the same time, many of the sick are still being hidden at home by their relatives, who fear going to an Ebola treatment centre, he said.

In the U.S., an American doctor infected with Ebola while working in western Africa said Friday he is "recovering in every way" and holding onto the hope of a reunion with his family.

Dr. Kent Brantly is in hospital in Atlanta.

"There are still a few hurdles to clear before I can be discharged, but I hold on to the hope of a sweet reunion with my wife, children and family in the near future," Brantly said in a statement through the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse.

Ebola can cause a high fever, bleeding and vomiting and has killed about half of those infected in this outbreak.

There is no cure and no licensed treatment for Ebola virus disease but rumours are circulating, especially in affected areas, that certain products or practices can help prevent or cure it, WHO said in a statement on Friday.

"All rumours of any other effective products or practices are false. Their use can be dangerous. In Nigeria, for example, at least two people have died after drinking salt water, rumoured to be protective," the UN health agency said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also said it's aware of products sold online that fraudulently claim to prevent or treat Ebola.

Elsewhere on Friday, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers for the Youth Olympics starting in Nanjing, China on Saturday said three teenage athletes from the West African countries affected by Ebola won't be allowed to compete because of the infection risk.

A woman stands by the gate of the government hospital under the rain in Kailahun, Sierre Leone on Thursday. Kailahun is part of the epicentre of the world's worst Ebola outbreak, where treatment centres can't keep up, the World Health Organization says. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty)

Doctors and nurses focus on providing supportive care for people infected with the Ebola virus, such as maintaining patients' blood pressure. Health-care workers, such as Brantly, are also among those who've been infected.

"It is particularly important to stop more health-care workers in the affected areas from getting infected," Elhadj As Sy, the new secretary general and chief executive officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement Friday. These countries cannot afford losing any of their nurses and doctors."

Sy recently met the presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone during a three-day visit. He called on leaders of the affected countries to engage with regional and international institutions to scale up and sustain the momentum of the response.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters


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